NBA Power Rankings: Why L.A. rivals are headed in opposite directions

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The Utah Jazz have the best record in the Western Conference, and that is only one of many surprises that have percolated throughout the first month of the 2022 NBA season.

The ascending 8-2 Cleveland Cavaliers had a chance at a 9-1 start and a share of first place in the Eastern Conference before blowing a 13-point lead to the LA Clippers. The Clippers are starting to find their own groove after a rough return for a now-sidelined Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They could soon be an early favorite in the wide-open West, especially when Leonard returns.

The Atlanta Hawks made an early statement by handing the previously undefeated Milwaukee Bucks their first loss, and they pulled it off without star point guard Trae Young. Once Young is back on the court, the Hawks could be good enough to challenge Milwaukee or Cleveland in the East.

Luka Doncic is looking like an early-season front-runner for MVP with a historic stat line for any player over the first nine games. The Dallas Mavericks haven’t faced any of the other expected contenders in the West but, with Doncic playing at his current level, they could prove to be trouble for any team.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3

1. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 9-1
Previous week’s ranking: 1

Despite losing their first game of the season to the Atlanta Hawks, the Bucks are still off to the best start in franchise history on the strength of the league’s No. 1 defense. Milwaukee continues to protect the rim at an elite level with Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo patrolling the paint while making good on their preseason promise to cut the number of 3s they give up — limiting teams to 31.6 in 2022-23 after allowing an NBA record 40.6 attempts last season.

— Collier


2. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 8-2
Previous week’s ranking: 3

The start to the Cavaliers’ season has been a dream, with the team sprinting out to an 8-2 mark and looking like a true contender in the East. But that doesn’t mean losses such as the one Monday against the Clippers don’t sting. The Cavs held a 13-point lead with five minutes to go before the Clips’ final surge. On the bright side, Evan Mobley exploded for a season-high 26 points in the loss.

— McMenamin


3. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 7-3
Previous week’s ranking: 2

The Suns have a problem at small forward. After Jae Crowder left the team before training camp while Phoenix worked to find a trade destination, Cam Johnson — the guy the franchise chose to elevate in the lineup, leading to the Crowder situation in the first place — got injured. Johnson suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee, requiring surgery that is expected to sideline him a couple of months. It could be time for Josh Okogie to get a better look.

— McMenamin


4. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 7-3
Previous week’s ranking: 4

Sam Hauser has taken advantage of Danilo Gallinari’s injury to carve out a rotation spot in Boston. He’s hitting 54% of his 3s and is good enough defensively to stay on the court.

— Bontemps


5. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 9-3
Previous week’s ranking: 11

Jordan Clarkson is thriving as a full-time starter — a role he hasn’t had since 2015-16. He’s proving he can succeed as a playmaker and not just a gunner, averaging 5.2 assists — twice his career rate. His 18.3 points per game is just shy of his career high from his 2020-21 Sixth Man of the Year season, and his .556 effective field goal percentage is his best yet.

— MacMahon


6. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 7-3
Previous week’s ranking: 9

According to coach Michael Malone, the combination of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray is like peanut butter and jelly, and it’s hard to disagree. Murray is averaging 19.3 points over his past four games, while Jokic is averaging 21.3 points and 10 assists. But the Nuggets are still in desperate need of defensive efficiency to match their offense.

— Andrews


7. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 7-4
Previous week’s ranking: 7

Desmond Bane (24.0 points per game) has emerged into one of the league’s best second offensive options in large part because of his development creating off the dribble. He’s shooting 45.9% on 8.5 3s per game, including 25-of-48 off the dribble. He was 20-of-57 on off-dribble 3s in his entire rookie season two years ago.

— MacMahon


8. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 7-3
Previous week’s ranking: 5

Coach Chauncey Billups has something brewing in Portland. The Blazers are not only off to a 7-3 start but they’re winning in dramatic fashion, with two victories on buzzer-beating shots. Josh Hart buried a 3 to complete a come-from-behind win at Miami. Three nights earlier, Jerami Grant stunned the Suns in Phoenix with a buzzer-beating shot. That is the kind of winning and late-game execution that makes a young team come together and believe. And Damian Lillard is back from injury as well.

— Youngmisuk


9. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 6-3
Previous week’s ranking: 12

Luka Doncic has joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to score at least 30 points in the first nine games of a season. Doncic also has at least five assists in each game. The only other players to ever have a nine-game run of at least 30 points and five assists are Oscar Robertson, Tiny Archibald and James Harden, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

— MacMahon


10. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 7-3
Previous week’s ranking: 13

The Hawks got back on the right track with a win at New York on Nov. 2 and carried that momentum into home victories over New Orleans on Friday and the previously undefeated Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night. Against Milwaukee the Hawks were without Trae Young, who missed the game with right shin soreness. Young also missed time against the Knicks after being hit in the face, but Dejounte Murray has kept Atlanta going. In the past three games, Murray has averaged 27.7 points, 10.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 steals.

— Lopez


11. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 6-5
Previous week’s ranking: 8

Pascal Siakam was playing like a first-team All-NBA forward before he suffered an adductor strain. Now, the Raptors will have to lean even harder into their length and depth — including rookie starting center Christian Koloko — to make up for his absence.

— Bontemps


12. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 5-5
Previous week’s ranking: 6

Three of New Orleans’ five losses have come in overtime and two came in the past week. After Matt Ryan’s desperation corner-3 forced overtime against the Lakers, the Pelicans couldn’t battle back to win. Against Atlanta, New Orleans erased a 13-point deficit in a matter of 2½ minutes and even took the lead late but ran out of gas on the second night of a back-to-back. The loss to the Pacers was another comeback attempt but the Pelicans again fell short. Afterward, Willie Green wasn’t happy with his team’s performance, saying, “We can’t wait to start trying to play hard with a quarter and a half left in the game. That’s a direct reflection of me. I promise we will be better.”

— Lopez


13. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 6-5
Previous week’s ranking: 18

A week ago, the Clippers celebrated narrowly avoiding an embarrassing loss to the Houston Rockets with sighs of relief. This week, the Clippers are trending upward after their best win of the season, over Cleveland. Starting with that Halloween night win over Houston, the Clippers have won four of their past five. Paul George, who has carried the team with Kawhi Leonard sidelined, earned last week’s Western Conference Player of the Week honors. Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac are off to strong starts and the Clippers’ veterans are beginning to settle into their roles, at least until Leonard returns and everything shifts again.

— Youngmisuk


14. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 5-6
Previous week’s ranking: 14

Now that Joel Embiid is back, Philadelphia will try to right itself after an uneven start to the season. But with Embiid still needing to work himself back into shape, the 76ers must get more from Tobias Harris as well.

— Bontemps


15. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 4-7
Previous week’s ranking: 10

After a winless five-game road trip, the Warriors came back to San Francisco searching for answers. They found one in Stephen Curry, who single-handedly carried them to a win over the Kings. But right now the Warriors have almost nothing beyond Curry. Steve Kerr tried a new rotation against the Kings but completely ditched it in the second half. So, the search for defense, a solid bench and an identity continues.

— Andrews


16. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 6-6
Previous week’s ranking: 20

Zach LaVine posted his first 30-point game since April 2 on Monday night as he continues to grow more comfortable playing on his surgically repaired left knee. The Bulls have been managing LaVine’s workload on back-to-backs, but the good news for Chicago is that the team doesn’t have another back-to-back until Dec. 10.

— Collier


17. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 5-6
Previous week’s ranking: 15

The Timberwolves have lost four of their past five — their only win coming against the lowly Rockets — prompting Anthony Edwards to call the team “soft.” Perhaps most concerning is that lineups featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert average just 101.4 points per 100 possessions (worst in the NBA) in 206 minutes.

— Andrews


18. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 5-5
Previous week’s ranking: 17

With Mitchell Robinson sidelined by a knee injury, Obi Toppin and Julius Randle have seen some time on the court together — something Knicks fans have been crying out for. And, so far, it has helped: The Knicks won two of their past three games.

— Bontemps


19. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 5-6
Previous week’s ranking: 19

Bradley Beal was back in health and safety protocols last weekend but Washington managed to win for just the third time in nine games. At least the Wizards responded after the debacle last Friday, when they were blown out by 42 to a Brooklyn Nets team that was mired in the Kyrie Irving drama and didn’t have the point guard at home. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with Dallas, Utah and Memphis visiting Washington in the next three games.

— Youngmisuk


20. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 4-7
Previous week’s ranking: 21

The Heat continue to struggle to find their stride as Josh Hart and the Blazers broke Miami’s heart with a buzzer-beater Monday night — Miami’s third loss in its past four games. Jimmy Butler is just 15-for-42 over his past three games.

— Friedell


21. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 5-6
Previous week’s ranking: 16

After missing four games with a sore left knee, Devin Vassell returned last Friday against the Clippers and put up a career-high 29 points while shooting 12-of-16 from the field and 4-of-5 from deep. He did it while playing just 25 minutes. Vassell became the third player in Spurs history to score that many points in those few minutes, joining Manu Ginobili (29 points in 25 minutes on Jan. 17, 2014) and Patty Mills (32 points in 25 minutes on Feb. 8, 2014, and 31 points in 22 minutes on Nov. 1, 2019).

— Lopez


22. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 4-7
Previous week’s ranking: 23

Kyrie Irving’s suspension continues to hover over the organization — but the Nets have actually played better basketball in recent days, thanks in large part to Kevin Durant, who is shooting 50.6% from the field over his first four games in November. Ben Simmons returned to the lineup Monday after missing four games because of a swollen knee, but now the Nets need Seth Curry to get going. Curry is just 1-for-12 over his first three games since returning from offseason ankle surgery.

— Friedell


23. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 5-5
Previous week’s ranking: 25

The Pacers have won back-to-back games against the Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans and continue to be led by Tyrese Haliburton, who is averaging 21.7 points, 9.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds. He is the first player in Pacers history to average 20 points and nine assists through the team’s first 10 games.

— Collier


24. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 4-6
Previous week’s ranking: 24

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is having a career year on the offensive end as he averages 30.8 points on 53.9% shooting — as well as hitting 62 of 64 free throws. He is also getting it done on the defensive end, averaging 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. His 32 combined “stocks” are tied with Anthony Davis for fourth-most in the league among all players, and Gilgeous-Alexander and Davis are the only two players ranked in the top 20 in both steals and blocks per game.

— Lopez


25. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 3-8
Previous week’s ranking: 22

Charlotte comes into the Wednesday game against the Blazers having lost five straight. As the Hornets wait for LaMelo Ball (ankle) to return, P.J. Washington has put together a couple of nice games in a row. He has 43 points and seven rebounds over his past two games.

— Friedell


26. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 3-6
Previous week’s ranking: 27

The Kings can take a positive note in that nearly all of their games over the past few weeks have been extremely close. Their two losses last week were decided on controversial no-calls — a travel on Tyler Herro and a foul on Klay Thompson — but a loss is still a loss.

— Andrews


27. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 3-8
Previous week’s ranking: 28

Bojan Bogdanovic has fit in nicely since being traded to the Pistons just before training camp, both as a veteran presence and mentor off the court and for his production on the court. He is averaging a career-best 19.5 points while shooting 46.8% on 3s.

— Collier


28. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 2-8
Previous week’s ranking: 26

It would be hard for the Lakers’ season to be off to a worse start. They’ve lost their past three games by an average of 17 points as their defense has slipped and the injury bug has already started to bite (thumb surgeries for Dennis Schroder and Thomas Bryant and illnesses for LeBron James, Patrick Beverley and Lonnie Walker IV).

McMenamin


29. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 2-9
Previous week’s ranking: 30

The Magic can’t find many wins, but No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero just keeps getting better and better. He had 30 points and six rebounds in the loss Monday and he is now the third rookie in Magic history with consecutive 30-point games, joining Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Scott, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

— Friedell


30. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 2-9
Previous week’s ranking: 29

No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr.’s pure jump shot was one of the reasons he was such a prized prospect, but he has been much more miss than hit to start his rookie season. Smith has the worst field goal percentage (.303) and effective field goal percentage (.385) among players who have attempted at least 100 shots from the floor.

— MacMahon



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